Why Are Basketball Players So Tall?

No major sport around the world requires the same type of height as basketball. While there are some shorter players out there who play at a high level, it is a huge advantage to have a height over an opponent.

Why are basketball players so tall? Basketball players are tall is that the game relies on putting the ball in a 10-foot high basket. The closer players are to the basket, the greater advantage they have. Height is not a requirement in the sport, but it gives players an edge. 

Biggest Advantages For Tall Players

Tall players have a few different advantages that work in their favor, but some basics stand out. Whether it is offense or defense, having at least one tall player can improve a team overall.

Offense

One of the most efficient shots in the game is a dunk or layup, and the tallest player on the floor is going to have opportunities throughout the day to do precisely that. Whether it is having a play run for them, or getting a put back on a rebound, tall players usually have a higher field-goal percentage because they get these looks.

Defense

A tall player can simply have active hands to have success defensively. When a player drives, having the hands straight up can contest shots without fouling. When the opposition is dribbling, long limbs can reach at the right time and knock the ball away.

Tall players who are just starting to learn the game usually excel at defense first, since a lot of it comes down to instincts. Offense is a bit more refined, so it takes longer for players to benefit from their height.

Average Height In The NBA

The average height of an NBA player tends to fluctuate between 6’6 “tall and 6’7 “tall, depending on the year. Players at this height are usually playing the forward position, and in an era of positionless basketball, things are starting to evolve a little as well.

Point guards, on average, are getting a little taller than back in the day. It is not uncommon to see a team’s point guard 6’4 “tall or even taller. As for centers, they are shrinking a bit, as players are going with a smaller lineup to have more flexibility changing matchups. Some teams are starting centers that are 6’9 “tall, or even shorter at times.

Who is the tallest player in the NBA right now, and all time?

The tallest current player in the NBA is 7’5” Tacko Fall. He is currently finishing his first year as an NBA player, and he played very sparingly for the Boston Celtics. Despite being so tall, eight players are at least as tall as him, or taller in NBA history.

Gheorghe Muresan holds the title is the tallest player to ever play in the NBA, as he is the only one officially listed at 7’7” tall. He was able to play a total of 307 NBA games for the Washington Bullets and the New Jersey Nets in the 1990s. He never evolved into a superstar, but he had some solid moments in his career.

Height Isn’t Always Positive

There seems to be a bit of a case of NBA players becoming too tall for their own good. The only guy who evolved into a superstar who was amongst the tallest in NBA history was Yao Ming. He had some great years for the Houston Rockets, but his career was cut short due to injuries.

That is the main reason why these tall players do not tend to have the same type of success as others. Their bodies can become very fragile, and it is continually supporting a lot of weight up and down the court. Tall players also struggle with flexibility, and with more athletic players in the NBA now, it is hard for them to guard anyone outside of the paint.

What Matters More: Height or Wingspan?

Height is always something that grabs the attention of the casual fan, but it comes down to wingspan to measure the effectiveness of a player. For example, there have been some players in NBA history who were only 6’1” or 6’2” tall, but they were able to have success thanks in large part to a wingspan that made them appear much taller. On the other side, people with shorter wingspans can play smaller than they are from a height perspective.

In the NBA right now, one of the best examples of this might be Donovan Mitchell. He is listed only 6’1 “tall, but he has a wingspan of 6’10 “. Anyone only looking at his height would think that he is too undersized. His wingspan allows him to play at a much higher level, as that helps on both sides of the court.

Can Short Players Succeed In Basketball?

Short players are at a distinct disadvantage, but guys can make it to the highest levels. Several players have played in the NBA who are below 6 feet tall, and some who are well below the national height average as well.

Two guys who stand out the most in basketball history are Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues. Spud Webb was not only one of the smallest players ever in NBA history at 5’7” tall, but he was able to win an NBA Dunk Contest at that height. Many were shocked that he was able to pull off impressive dunk after impressive dunk, and helped him become one of the more popular players in the league.

Bogues is four inches shorter than Webb, and he holds the record as the shortest NBA player in the history of the league. At 5’3” tall, it seems crazy that he was able to play at the highest level. Teams try to exploit him on both sides of the ball regularly, but he was a tenacious player willing to go out there and play hard all the time. He turned into an excellent defensive player as well, pestering players with his advantage of being closer to the ground.

Hope For Smaller Players

Basketball has evolved in the last few years to make it a much more perimeter-oriented game than in the past. Not only that, but since big players are hanging out on the perimeter, it clears up the lane for smaller players to drive.

Overall, basketball today is much more favorable for shorter players than ever before. There used to be a case that the most critical position in basketball was at the center. Now, centers can be very obsolete if they can’t shoot or dive to the basket with super athleticism.

If everything else is equal, the taller player is likely going to have the edge. It is hard work for smaller players to get to certain levels, but not impossible. They are still players in the NBA now who are under 6 feet tall, and they have been able to have some success.

Chris Davis

I'm Chris, the guy behind BasketballJoy. I've played basketball for 20+ years and have been a full-time coach since 2017. On this website, I share everything I know about the most beautiful sport in the world - Basketball.

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